NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Senate on Monday approved legislation to permit alcohol sales at most Tennessee public college and university sports venues, clearing the way for final action in the House later this week.
Senators approved the bill on a 28-3 vote with no debate. Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, was among the three voting no.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is among campuses that would be impacted. Officials there say they are interested in the ability to sell alcohol at McKenzie Arena, UTC's basketball venue, for entertainment events including concerts.
Sponsored by Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, the legislation is a follow-up to a 2018 law that allowed alcohol sales at Middle Tennessee State University and Tennessee State University sports facilities. The law designates them as a "sports authority" under existing state alcohol statutes.
Duncan Massey has said she brought the bill in response to tourism and other officials in Knoxville. They say promoters and big-time entertainment acts are bypassing the city because alcohol can't be sold to the general public at UT-Knoxville's Neyland Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena.
The bill would impact an estimated 50 colleges and universities. It also opens the way for alcohol to be sold to general admission ticket-holders at college games, depending on whether the sports conference an institution belongs to permits that.
In UT-Knoxville's case, the Southeastern Conference does not permit alcohol sales at this juncture.
But a number of other college conferences do. UTC, for example, is a member of the Southern Conference, where at least one college does permit alcohol sales to those of legal age.
Sens. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voted yes on the measure.
House sponsor, Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, has noted interim UT System President Randy Boyd supports the measure and favors letting campus chancellors decide whether or not to approve alcohol sales.
The bill, Senate Bill 598 (House Bill 850), is scheduled for House floor debate on Thursday.
In other legislative action Monday night:
An anti-cockfighting bill flew out of the Senate on a 23-5 vote and is headed to Gov. Bill Lee for his consideration, despite a senator's grumblings about newcomers' intolerance for Tennessee traditions.
Senate Bill 222 (House Bill 233) sponsored by Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Kingsport, makes it a Class A misdemeanor to possess, own, buy, sell or make animal fighting equipment with intent for use in promoting, training, facilitating or furthering cockfighting and dog fighting.
Among other paraphernalia that could put someone in jail for up to a year with a $2,500 fine are the deadly steel blades that illegal operators attach to a rooster's claws.
While illegal, cockfighting still occurs in a number of rural areas, especially in East Tennessee.
Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, strongly objected to the bill and chided colleagues over outsiders moving into the state who are critical of state traditions.
Citing the book "American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America," which examines geographical cultural differences, Niceley noted Tennessee is a part of "Greater Appalachia."
"Now, it's the 21st Century and we have a lot of that multi-culturalism. That's all we hear — multi-culturalism. 'Oh that culture, oh, they're a little different. They have strange, weird, obnoxious, scary habits," Niceley said. "But that's their culture. So we got to respect that culture."
But Niceley said, "it bothers me when people from outside Greater Appalachia move into Greater Appalachia and they don't respect our culture. I don't know hardly how to put this so I probably won't put it. In this age of multi-culturalism, everybody does something different. We're supposed to look the other way. We're supposed to tolerate the other culture.
"But," Niceley said, "I get tired of people moving into Greater Appalachia and not respecting our culture."
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.